Sacrifice (Myths and Legends of the World)
Many religious ceremonies have included sacrifice, the act of giving up something of value and offering it to a Worshipers may make a sacrifice to win the favor of the deity, to give thanks, or to maintain a good relationship with the god. Myths from around the world contain many examples of sacrifices in which animals, humans, and even gods shed blood or die. Sometimes the sacrifice is linked with creation or with the continuation of life on earth. People also make offerings of precious items such as flowers, wine, and incense or a portion of the fruit or grain collected during a harvest.
Meaning and Methods of Sacrifice. One type of sacrifice involves the offering of blood or life. According to one theory, the
practice of blood sacrifice was based on the belief that life is precious, even divine. When freed from an earthly body, life returned to its sacred source. In ancient Rome, a person performing a sacrifice said to the god, "Be thou increased by this offering." The idea behind this type of sacrifice was not pain, suffering, or death. Rather, life was...
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Sacrifice (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
SACRIFICE. Sacrifice is the ritualistic and reverential slaughter, cooking, and distribution of meat. Conventional accounts of sacrifice stress the colorful and religious aspects of slaying an animal for the benefit of the participants' relationships with the gods. This understanding leads to the generalized use of the word "sacrifice" to mean giving up somethingncluding other foodsn anticipation of more valuable rewards.
From the viewpoint of a cultural outsider, sacrifice may seem a brutal or incomprehensible practice. Yet historically, sacrifice has been a common practice in many tribal and agrarian societies, as have food offerings, in a more general sense. Sacrifices serve various functions: the ancient Chinese text Li chi describes ceremonies that summon spirits from above to restore social harmony. Maintaining environmental balance is also a common sacrificial motive. Sacrifices are important in the doctrines of Hindus, Jews, Christians, and Muslims: they enable participants to share a table with their deity, give thanks, atone for sins, or appease angry forces. For example, Muslims believe that the animal slaughtered at the Id al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) at the conclusion of their pilgrimage to Mecca will carry them to Paradise.
Social scientists have explained that dramatic rituals encourage group solidarity. The act of coming together to present gifts helps to bind members of a group together as well as any blood oath can. According to Scottish anthropologist W. Robertson Smith in The Religion of the Semites (1889), sacrifice originated in a meal shared between people and their god. French sociologist ile Durkheim and his associates asserted that sacrifice constantly renews group consciousness of the sacred and that the all-powerful god which society worships is itself.
Ceremony promotes social cohesion, but such theories are incomplete because they do not explain why cohesion important in the first place. As stated earlier, the underlying action of a sacrifice is the coming together for the slaughter and distribution of meat. This core social action is elaborated on cultural and religious levels. The animal is not lost but is allocated to the group according to precise rules. In groups that perform sacrifices, animals are valuable enough food to warrant special attention, typically at a festival, and often the animals are large enough to warrant wider dispersal than within an immediate household. This dispersal typically takes place at some central place such as a temple.
Early Jewish celebrations of Passover traditionally required the sacrifice of one lamb for each household or for distribution among several small households; the lamb was then eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:18). This ritual is a seasonal festival that, on one level, recalls the nomadic origins of the Hebrews, who would annually gather to celebrate increased flocks. On another level, however, Passover recalls the escape from Egypt after Moses had cursed the Egyptians to suffer the death of their first-born males. To avoid this curse, the Hebrews placed on their door posts a sign made from the blood of sacrificial lambs.
Gods have traditionally played key roles in food distribution. Each temple-state in ancient Mesopotamia had its own deities who lived in the ziggurat and who were fed offerings from the surrounding farms. This tribute not only supported the temple bureaucracy and artisans but also fed the poor of the region. In other places, this type of food redistribution also took place in kingdoms that were under the leadership of warrior rulers. For example, the ancient leader King Solomon oversaw the apportioning of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep at the dedication of his temple. These sacrifices served as a vast round of public meals, which were shared by "all Israel . . . a great assembly" from distant places. These meals also lasted for quite some time, as Solomon dismissed the crowd on the eighth day (1 Kings 8:626).
The role of the mageiros in ancient Greece also illustrates the social centrality of sacrifice. This same word was used for priest, cook, and butcher (which might bewilder the modern mind). Nevertheless, the common link among these individuals was that each of them was responsible for the cutting up of meat, the priest wielding his cleaver (or machaira) ritualistically, the butcher commercially, and the cook artistically.
Aztec priests gained notoriety for sacrificing human victims. In The Sacred Cow and Abominable Pig, the anthropologist Marvin Harris argues that such "warfare cannibalism" occurs when captives have greater value as meat than as slaves (pp. 19934). Yet many claims of human sacrifice are often suspect, as they can be misrepresentations of others as "less civilized." For example, some people in the ancient world mistook Christians for cannibals because they spoke of their savior as a sacrificial lamb and of their eucharistic bread and wine as his flesh and blood.
Because the acquisition and distribution of meat are so fundamental in society, they have been surrounded by many different relationships, rituals, and meanings. The allocation can become so formalized, the portion of food "lost" to the gods so large, and sacramental feelings so profound that the process may no longer resemble sharing. In addition, many accounts have overemphasized religious meanings at the expense of focusing on the sacrificial process of cooking offerings. However, a gastronomic interpretation of sacrifices need not diminish the importance of the ties among people, natural forces, and gods that sacrifices represent. On the contrary, taking the sharing of food under serious consideration arguably grounds the religious aspects of sacrifice and increases their relevance.
In much of the world, the act of slaughtering meat has been removed from plain view to the city outskirts. It has shifted from the butcher's shop to behind a supermarket wall. The final carving of joints now tends to be kept to the kitchen, and the image of cattle is separate from that of hamburgers. Greater sympathy with ceremonial sacrifice may help reconnect meat-eaters with their metabolic universe. A keener sense of the sacred when eating meat might help counterbalance tendencies toward instant gratification, conspicuous consumption, viewing animals as commodities, and the increasingly unbalanced distribution of the world's resources. If animal-devouring gourmets do not entirely embrace such religious impulses as atonement, propitiation, divine commensalism, and thanksgiving, they might nevertheless remember that to "immolate"rom the Latin for 'sacrifice's to sprinkle with a condiment.
Arguing for a more materialist reverence that brings the sacred back into the kitchen, Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon advises cooks to remember that they inhabit "bloody ground and holy ground at once." In his recipe book and "culinary reflection," The Supper of the Lamb, he confronts the dilemma of the "bloody, unobliging reciprocity in which life lives by death, but still insists that death is robbery" (pp. 452).
See also Anthropology and Food; Aversion to Food; Christianity; Disgust; Fasting and Abstinence; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts; Hinduism; Islam; Judaism; Meat; Pig; Religion and Food; Sheep; Sin and Food; Taboos.
Capon, Robert Farrar. The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969.
Detienne, Marcel, and Jean-Pierre Vernant. The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Harris, Marvin. The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig: Riddles of Food and Culture. New York: Touchstone, 1987. Originally entitled Good to Eat, 1985.
Symons, Michael. "Cutting Up Cultures." Journal of Historical Sociology 15, no. 4 (December 2002).
Symons, Michael. "The Kitchen of the Gods." Australian Religion Studies Review 11, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 11425.